Becoming God’s Champions
By Peter Amsterdam
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“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.”—Galatians 6:91
Over the years I’ve seen a number of movies about sports teams, as I’m sure you have. The story often centers around a new coach coming into a high school that has a weak team. The coach often has a style of coaching that is quite different from the former coach, and the team or the parents or the school officials don’t like it. The coach is tough on the team, he pushes them really hard, he makes them work like never before, and it seems like he’s almost killing the team. The team may even lose the first few games, and he pushes them harder. Then the team starts winning games and eventually wins the championship.
These films are very inspiring, because you see the hard work and determination of the coach and the team pay off. Sometimes they’re tearjerkers, and they almost always have good lessons of some kind. There are usually lessons for the coach, for the star of the team, for the parents, for the teachers, and for the team as a whole.
You often see the rallying speech given by the coach to the team at the halftime of the championship game, when the team is behind and it looks as if they might lose. Sometimes the coach yells and screams; other times he gives a gentle speech invoking the memory of a team player who has died or some past event about the school, which fires up the team to go out and win.
When the game is over and the team has won, there is great jubilation. The team is thrilled, the parents are joyous, and the school is proud because their team won the championship. The players know that this was a great time in their lives, and many of them now go off to college to play for their new school. Many times those films end with the coach either in his office or back home, looking over who’s going to be on the team next year and thinking about how he’s going to do it all over again next year with a new team.
There are many lessons to draw from those kinds of movies or stories, but there are two that stand out to me. The first lesson has to do with something that you generally don’t see in one of those movies.
You don’t usually see the coach, at the end of the movie, when the team has won the championship, get the team together and tell them how sorry he is that the team members had to work so hard and endure so much in order to win. He might let them know that all the training he put them through wasn’t personal, that it wasn’t because he didn’t like the team players that he made it so tough.
But I’ve never seen the coach express regret for the rigors or training, for the difficulties, or for the sacrifice. I’ve never seen any coach show remorse or apologize for the fact that in order for his team to become champions, he had to push them pretty hard.
To the contrary, leading up to the championship game you always see the coach being very demanding of the team. He never seems to be happy with the team’s performance; he’s always wanting more, expecting more. He makes them work out, run, run, and run some more. Sometimes it almost looks like he’s unfeeling and uncaring, especially when they are totally exhausted after a practice, and instead of letting them stop, he makes them do it all over again.
The team is wiped out. They complain. Usually one or two members quit. Sometimes the parents complain, and sometimes they try to get the coach fired. It’s probably not easy for the coach to put his team through so much, but he knows that that’s what he has to do to make them winners. And in the end, when the team starts winning, when there are positive results, and especially when they become champions, then it dawns on everyone else that it was precisely all that hard work and difficulty that brought about the victory.
It’s clear that to become champions requires hard work and sacrifice. It’s clear that there’s no easy road to victory.
It would be an anticlimactic ending to one of those inspiring movies if the coach got the team together after their victorious season and said, “You know, team, I’m super sorry that I expected, in fact demanded, so much of you, and that you had to work so hard as a result. I’m sorry if I pushed you further than you wanted or felt you could go.” I don’t think you’ll see one of those movies end that way, because there’s no one on that championship team who would expect or want to hear such a speech.
Why? Because the team is a team of winners, who put their hard work and sweat into becoming winners. They know that the expectations of the coach were what pushed them to victory, and that without that, victory wouldn’t have been achieved. They wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
The second lesson is that the coach realizes that when the sports season has ended, he has to begin all over again with a new team, because most of the players have moved on to college. He realizes that in order to produce a victorious team next year, he has to do it all over again; that a victory one year doesn’t guarantee a victory the next year. He has to put in the same time, the same work, the same sacrifice, to make his next team a winning team.
He also knows that as he plans ahead for the next season, everything will be different, and he has to adapt his strategy. The teams he’ll face next year will be different teams, with different players. His team will be different as well. It won’t have the same strengths as last year’s team. If one of his players last year was strong in a certain aspect of the game, but now he’s gone, then the coach has to change the strategy so as to play off the strengths and to cover for the weaknesses that the new team has.
These coaches have to begin almost from scratch each year. Last year’s glories are just that—last year’s glories. They’re not renewable glories. It takes the same, and sometimes more, blood, sweat, and tears, to win the next season as it did last season.
I haven’t seen in any of those movies a scene where the coach is bemoaning the next season and all of the work that it’s going to be. They’re never shown saying, “I can’t believe that after this tough year I’m going to have to do it again! How can the school expect me to have a fresh start in a new season when I’ve just given my all last season? I think it should be easier. I think I should be able to coast for a year or two on our last championship. I’m satisfied with our wins, and it’s so unfair to have to keep working hard to produce a championship team.” No, you’ll never see a movie with a scene like that.
The great coaches don’t think that way; it’s not in their blood. They’re hungry to win, they’re determined to keep fighting, to keep sacrificing, year after year, to produce champions year after year. That’s the nature of sports and competition. It’s also the nature of the spiritual warfare we engage in as Christians in our service to the Lord and others, and in our mission of bringing salvation to as many as will receive Him.
I’m sure you’ve had times in your life for the Lord when you were exhausted to the point of giving up, and have wondered if you could go on one more day. But you did. You fought hard, you sacrificed, you laid down your life for others, and you have witnessed the fruit of your labors, or you will one day. But I’m pretty sure if you’re like me, at some point you have felt like, “How can the Lord expect this of us? It’s like the Egyptians making the children of Israel make bricks without straw.2 Does He know what He’s asking of us? Does He know how hard He’s pushing us? Does He know how exhausted we are? Does He know that we have our limits? What’s the matter with Him?”
Well, here’s the deal: He’s like a coach who is working hard to turn his team into a champion team. Sometimes He has to push us to the limit so that we can go beyond what we believe we can do and be victorious. Like the coaches in those movies, He’s working to produce champions of each of us personally and His body of believers as a whole.
I’m pretty sure that most of us at one time or another have felt like those team members in the movies. We got angry at our Coach; we couldn’t believe He would be expecting so much of us. Perhaps we complained. I’m sure we have all felt like quitting at some time or another. But the price of victory, the price of progress, the price of championship is sacrifice, hard work, dedication, obedience, perseverance and faith. And we have our Coach—Jesus—to thank for training us in these attributes.
No one wins great victories without paying the price. No battle is won without pouring your all into the battle. No athletic contest is won without the months or years of grueling training. Victory costs! It sometimes costs everything. Victory is the culmination of sacrifice, hard work, dedication, obedience, perseverance, and faith.
When you arrive in heaven you’ll hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Lord.” You will hear the champions of centuries past cheering your names as you enter heaven’s hall of fame.
This is a war worth fighting. This is a war that’s worth giving our all to. This is a war worth laying down our lives for. It’s a war to free the hearts and souls of the lost. It’s a war to set the captives free. It’s a war to fulfill God’s desire to reach the world with His truth and love.
This war is not a negative. The fact that we’re going to have to fight hard is not a negative. The spiritual warfare that we’re engaged in is a positive, because it’s the means to securing victory—not just for ourselves or for our loved ones, but for the world, for God’s kingdom on earth, for the future of humankind.
We love the fact that our warfare enables us to wreak havoc and destruction on the Devil’s kingdom. We love the fact that we’re ripping souls out of his clutches. We love the fact that by preaching the Gospel in all the world, we’re paving the way for the Lord’s return to come. We love the fact that we can show the Enemy that we’re not afraid of him. We love the fact that we are going to win!
If there is only one route to securing your goals and dreams, and you determine that your goals are so worth it that you’re willing to take that route, come hell or high water, then you realize that you have a choice as to whether you’ll look at that path positively or negatively. Since you have to take that path anyway, and there’s no alternative, then why not look at it positively? Why not decide to enjoy it and make the best of it, to relish every moment of the journey? Rather than just letting your feet flop along, mechanically putting one foot in front of the other, put passion and determination into each step! Choose to do so, because in doing so you will have the kind of outlook needed to lead others to victory.
That’s the point we need to come to in our outlook on the trials and tests we face and the fact that there are years of spiritual warfare ahead of us, because the fight for the souls of humankind is going to continue until the Lord’s return. The Rapture will be the culmination of the victories of this earthly warfare, and it’s going to be thrilling. To get there, we’re going to have to “fight the good fight of faith,”3 and it’s going to be a long and tough fight, but it’s going to be a thrilling fight because we’re going to win thrilling victories.
In our war against Satan for the souls of the world, we know that victory is guaranteed, but we also know that it takes time to win victories and that victories cost. So we have to learn to appreciate, or at least to look very positively on, all that it takes to win the victory and all that it costs along the way.
Embrace the price. Embrace what it costs you to win. Glory in your infirmities.4 It makes the victory that much more worth it and sweeter. The training you endure to become fit to run the race and to fight the good fight of faith is acceptable because of what you achieve, because of the victories you win.
He’ll empower us for every situation we find ourselves in. We just have to be willing to go forward, to not give up, no matter how we feel. We have to depend on the Lord and wield His might and power. We have to rest in the Lord and keep fighting.
Why are we willing to fight the good fight? We’re willing to do it because the love of Christ constrains us, because there’s no greater love in all the world than to lay down our lives for Him and for others.5 That’s our calling and commission. We can be sure that as we lay down our lives, as we willingly sacrifice in His service, He will quicken us in spirit and give us what we need to keep persevering, to keep fighting, and to keep going.
We know that the Lord never asks anything of us that He doesn’t give us the grace for.6 That doesn’t just mean grace to barely make it through, but to rise above, to be victorious, to be champions. So we know that we will have strength, power, faith, and grace equal to the task, that even though the battles we face in this life will be tough and the load will be heavy, the Lord will never let things be too tough or too hard or too heavy.
Sometimes we might feel that we can’t do something or that it’s too much, but actually, when we look to the Lord and find out that it’s His will for us to press on, we find that we do have the strength and the ability to do what He’s asking. We just have to go deeper into Jesus, deeper into the Spirit, so that we can summon strength and energy from His never-ending reservoir of willpower and determination to fight and win.
Originally published November 2008. Adapted and republished November 2013.
Read by Jerry Paladino.
2 Exodus 5:12–18.
3 1 Timothy 6:12
4 2 Corinthians 11:23–30.
5 2 Corinthians 5:14–15; John 15:13.
6 2 Corinthians 12:9–10.